The Richardson Complex is about to shine.
The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is playing a free nighttime concert on the south lawn of the recently renovated architectural masterpiece. Along with the performance, the buildings will light up with extravagant moving images by local lightmapping artists Projex, with artistic direction by Keith Harrington.
The concert is called "Enlighten." BPO Music Director JoAnn Falletta hopes it will live up to its name in more ways than one.
"I just can't imagine how it's going to look," Falletta said. "I'm hoping it's going to transform the Richardson Complex into a place of light. I hope we can make people think of it as a place of light, transform it into a place of light and joy."
Designed by world-renowned architect H.H. Richardson, the Richardson Complex has long battled a sinister, and unfair, reputation. It was home for many years to the Buffalo State Hospital For the Insane. Many people see it as a place of tragedy and abuse. The buildings' 19th century design can also seem dark and archaic.
In reality, the hospital was conceived with the best intentions. Richardson was one of the most sought-after architects of his day, known for the beauty of his creations. The hospital also engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds.
Falletta was moved as she researched the place's history.
"Each patient had a quiet, private room -- so beautiful," she said. "They cooked with vegetables that they grew. It was a very holistic place.
"The more I talked to people, the more amazed I was about how progressive their care was, when it was first established. How nurturing and beautiful it was, in terms of their healthy approach to how to help people heal. They grew fruits and vegetables. It was a very holistic approach to healing."
What better time to shine a light on the buildings than when the Richardson Complex, anchored by the new Hotel Henry, is seeing a rebirth? To emphasize themes of hope and healing, Falletta has designed a program of music by composers who struggled with various conditions, including depression and alcoholism.
Visuals of fireworks will add color to Handel's "Music For the Royal Fireworks." Tchaikovsky's Waltz from "Swan Lake" accompanies visuals inspired by various patterns of the Richardson buildings. Rachmaninoff and Beethoven also figure in the evening.
The light show's theme will change with every selection.
"Each movement is quite different," Falletta said. "Each one draws inspiration from the music, and the music comes from composers who were able to create this extraordinary work. I chose composers who suffered from mental health problems to show that sometimes with problems you can create the most extraordinary things.
"It's going to be an amazing night."
Admission is free, but the orchestra asks that patrons adhere to certain rules for safety reasons. Pets are not permitted. Bikes must be locked outside the gates of the event. Strollers, coolers and picnics are welcome, but because of space constraints, picnic tables are not. All bags are subject to inspection.
The light show will be projected onto the front and left side of the Towers Building. For optimum enjoyment, the orchestra suggests that viewers choose a spot with views of both sides.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, "Enlighten"
9 p.m. July 28 at the Richardson Complex (444 Forest Ave.). Free. For info, call 885-5000.